Cronin: Our Freedom of Sport
Should inflammatory speech be published if it criticizes a student group?
I’m a student athlete. Upon reading Osman Khan ’21’s April 26 column, “Admitting Our Athletes,” in The Dartmouth, I felt two initial reactions. First, I felt angry and hurt that another student so strongly believed that my teammates and I might not belong at the institution we worked so hard to be a part of. And secondly, I felt resentment toward The Dartmouth for publishing an article demonstrating a concerning lack of awareness of how so many students felt about campus athletics.
But what came after the anger and resentment was a much deeper consideration on my part of what deserves publication and what doesn’t. And that changed my mind. Khan’s opinion, no matter how unpopular, and no matter how much I disagreed with it, had a right to be published. And after witnessing the powerful ripple effects of activity, debate and conversation following the column’s publication, I have to say that I’m glad that The Dartmouth chose to publish it.
I initially wrote up a response to The Dartmouth, detailing my frustration with the paper for publishing such an inflammatory and unpopular view. In writing this response, however, I found myself coming up against free speech rights. As much as I disagreed with him, Khan did not author hate speech nor directly insult one student in particular. Nor did he technically lie at any point in his efforts to criticize the legitimacy of recruited athletes here at Dartmouth.
Khan’s column was dismissive, spurious and inflammatory to a large portion of the student body — but we’re all the better for it. This may only be my first year here at Dartmouth, but I have never seen students come together on an issue in the way they have over “Admitting our Athletes.” The debate and conversation that the column generated among athletes and non-athletes alike prompted people to speak out against Khan’s perplexing message and confront the issues he addressed.
I recently attended an ESPNW event put on by the Dartmouth athletics department for female athletes. During the discussion, one student asked for the panelists’ thoughts on Khan’s column. The entire crowd of over 300 athletes erupted in applause and cheering, the anger and frustration they felt bringing them together in solidarity. I had never before seen group so united and so driven to action and solidarity by an issue.
Almost every day in the week following the article’s publication, I had an in-depth discussion with a friend or a classmate about the weakness of Khan’s argument or the anger that the column sparked. Often, these conversations led to profound reflections about the experiences that my classmates have had as athletes on campus. I myself realized some of the insecurities that I felt as a recruited athlete. Khan’s words brought ideas to the surface and made me realize that other people felt the same way that he did. But in the end, they prompted me to reflect and discuss, and those discussions reinforced my belief that I deserve to be here.
Sometimes, we have to suffer insults to establish what we truly believe. That is the price we pay for freedom of speech. Iconoclasts will continue to use this system to make their opinions known. If we do our job correctly, their messages will prompt the activism and conversation necessary for the advancement of our own morals and political awareness. When Khan published his column, he lit a fire. It’s up to us to tend the flames.
Cronin is a member of the Class of 2022.
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